Copper tubing trying to push automotive market uphill

Nov 01, 2010 | 06:32 AM | Myra Pinkham

Although it is a growing niche market—and one with opportunity for further growth—promoting the use of copper-nickel tubing for hydraulic brake lines and other small-diameter automotive fluid lines (power steering, transmission, cooler and fuel lines) has been an uphill battle, especially in the United States, despite its excellent corrosion-resistance properties.

There has been, and continues to be, some success in the aftermarket, but its cost has made domestic automakers gun shy about designing it into new vehicles.

"I continue to be encouraged by its potential," said Bill McGregor, a consultant for Small Tube Products Co. Inc., Duncansville, Pa., which is said to be the only domestic producer of Alloy C70600 copper-nickel tubing in the 3/16-inch-and-below diameters needed for hydraulic brake lines. It is "a much more superior product" than aluminum/polymer epoxy-coated steel tubing, which is its major competition, but it also is more expensive.

The tubing shouldn't be confused with pure copper tubing, which Fred Anderson, president of brake line distributor BrakeQuip LLC, Knoxville, Tenn., said isn't legal to use for brake lines as it work hardens and deteriorates quickly. "It cracks with vibration and is a safety hazard," he said. "But the addition of 10-percent nickel makes a big difference. It makes the tubing much more corrosion resistant and makes it much more workable—even more workable than steel tubing. It is easy to bend and is very hard to kink and if you put a metal polish on it, it actually looks like chrome."....

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